“Ah memories are made of this,” my grandfather used to say, usually after a family dinner on Hogmanay sitting under stars that he couldn’t see, in a country that he wasn’t born in.
“What exactly are memories made of?”
I decided to engage the scientific brain muscles. In order to deconstruct a memory I would have to establish a premise and settle upon a memory that is universally applicable. The hypothesis was scientific: Does place influence the event that makes an experience memorable or does the event influence the place that makes an experience unforgettable? The subject matter was purely sentimental and universally valid: A first kiss. In this experiment, mine.
Michael rode his Chopper bike with bare feet, a naked chest and a white smile. His long blonde hair blew in the wind. He smelled of chlorine and he wore a faded red Speedo; he should have lived at the sea. He kissed me over the handlebars of his bike, he closed his eyes and made it special. His skin was beach-sand warm and his mouth tasted of oranges.
To establish if the memory of my first kiss is memorable because of where it happened – on a sand road in front of a municipal swimming pool in Germiston, or, if the area is memorable because it was where I experienced my first kiss.
A car, a smile, and the indelible map of childhood inked into my memory.
The Electricity Supply Commission’s thirty-year old threat to churn up the wide island in front of our house and plant its monstrous power pylons next to our pre-cast wall has come to naught, but it is no compensation for the East Rand baroque palette that has been rendered to the down-pipes and gutters of my childhood home.
The shrubs on neighbours pavements have been uprooted along with the hiding places from which I observed Michael doing wheelies down our sand road before he skidded off right into his own tarred road.
The smooth pole around which I liquorice-twisted myself in an attempt to appear sexy and desirable has rusted bubbles underneath the municipal green paint. On the top of the pole the three street names are still displayed. Langdale leads westward to my house, or eastwards toward the railway line and an uninspiring view of the steel factory. Swannage dips closer down to the railway line and toward Michael’s house. Cheam Crescent snakes up to the swimming pool where we spent summer holding hands on thirsty orange beach towels nicked from the posh hotels, or sucking Jelly Belly ice-creams on fibreless towels with rows of faded palms.
The corner house has the same unpainted gates and dire warning to trespassers – an identical breed of pre-cast tooth-and-gum guard dogs straining against their own over-bred chests and forelegs.
Double silver gates that beckoned us to the pool that summer are closed for the winter. The pool that shimmered promises is empty; the sky-blue painted concrete confesses the secret of the brochure-blue water of my memory. A pressed metal timetable detailing opening and closing times offers no disclosure of the teenage planning that took place according to those firm times. Boarded-up ablutions guard the romantic conspiracies that were whispered behind their walls. Giggles echo in my mind. I drive away.
It’s difficult to calculate the effect of place on event, to equate the importance of the event to the place. The properties that one imagines place would bestow upon the first kiss are, upon close investigation, elusive as vapour. A kiss doesn’t make the shadow of the looming steel factory any less ugly; but a kiss that tasted of oranges is a lingering memory that owes its beauty entirely to the act of itself.
He kissed me over the handlebars of his bike. He closed his eyes and made it special. His mouth tasted of oranges
(First published in In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself – Volume 8)